- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A Pennsylvania budget bill reached the floor of the House on Monday, with major spending questions unresolved one week before the current budget expires.

The House sent the bill to the Appropriations Committee, which is expected to amend it Tuesday with proposals for offsetting a projected revenue gap of $1.7 billion.

Meanwhile, leaders of the House Republican majority scheduled but then called off a long-awaited debate on public pensions Monday night.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has made pension changes a condition of his willingness to consider new taxes in the state budget that is supposed to take effect July 1.

But Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House GOP, said many members remain confused over the complicated legislation. He said a debate could occur as early as Tuesday.

Before lawmakers left for the day, the ranking Democrat on Appropriations, Rep. Joseph Markosek, blasted Corbett for threatening to hold discussions about new revenues “hostage” until legislators approve changes in the pensions and measures on alcoholic beverages. He said legislation on those issues is unlikely to affect the budget shortfall.

“We have a herculean task ahead of us and it’s time we get to work,” the Allegheny County lawmaker said, adding that a budget balanced on spending cuts and accounting gimmicks would be “truly disastrous for Pennsylvania schools, the economy and the middle class.”

Delaware County Republican Rep. Bill Adolph, the committee chairman, called the budget “a work in progress.”

Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate met behind closed doors Monday to discuss an approach to balancing the budget.

The pension debate involves scores of pending amendments to a bill that would revamp the state’s two major public pension systems by replacing the traditional pension with a 401(k)-style plan that would roll back benefits for school and state employees starting in 2015.

Corbett, whose party controls both chambers of the Legislature, supports an amendment to create a “hybrid” system that combines the traditional and defined-contribution plan.

Democrats say the changes would have no effect on the projected budget gap and that benefit adjustments lawmakers approved in 2010 should be given time to work.

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